Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Don't be Fooled!

I got into a rather long discussion with a magic friend of mine, who thinks that Penn and Teller's "Fool Us" harms the magic image, as it reduces magic down to the tricks. I feel otherwise. And thinking about it I remembered a book a read some year ago.

Florian Severin, respected author of the great book "13 Steps to Vandalism" makes a great point in the book. It starts of with a hypothetical scenario. Imagine this: Your audience knows the ins and out of your tricks. They know how you perform your whole act. They know about the method implied, they know about the gags, the framing and even everything about your whole persona. Would people still wanna see your act? The answer is yes, if you are good.

Basically it is like a stand up comedian. If you still laugh seeing him the second time then he is good. Think about it. Seeing an comedy act a second time means you got no surprises coming up. You know every single punchline and the whole act in general. Still people will come and want to see your act. Many times. Why? Because you are good.

Now transfer this to magic... If there are no surprises and no mystery left, then the only thing left is you. And if you're good, people will come.

This whole thought experiment derived from one experience. Florian Severin saw a show with some of his parent's friends (if i recall correctly) The magicians performing must have been horrible. At the end Florian was told that the magician was good. Florian was appalled upon hearing that. Then asking why the audience thought the bad magician was good Florian got the following answer: "Yes, I don't know how he did any of the tricks."

So Florian concluded that the masked magician probably did us magicians a favor. Personally I think that Penn and Teller do us a favor in the long run. First they don't really expose magicians. They expose methods, but only if there are several other methods to choose from. And they don't reduce magic to just the tricks.


Mike said...


It can't have passed anyone buy, unless they're a bit daft, that even the magicians that have not fooled P & T have been hugely entertaining.

Case in point was Mark Shortland with his mobile phone trick. He may not have won but I'll bet his bookings have gone through the roof.

As you say, its the entertainer not the tricks.

Jack said...

I disagree. When people know the secret to a particular trick, they are no longer interested in seeing it. They may also think you are crap.

Jack said...

... no matter how good you are.

Roland said...

On that I disagree. And I am talking from my own experience. I did explain a trick ones and then asked my audience if they would actually like to see it being performed well. The result was an overall "yes". And the reaction was interestingly stronger than without the explanation. I felt bad about it, as I have betrayed my love for magic, but it lead me eventually to one of my strongest coin trick. Basically I explain various palms and then go on by saying that the trick is not to palm the coin but to shift the coin from palm to palm that it cannot be seen. After that explanation I simply did a false transfer and pretended I shift the coin from palm to palm... showing my hand more and more empty. I get reactions you wouldn't believe. And by not telling them the actual secret I keep my dignity.
But this post was more about why Penn and Teller do not hurt magic. What is you opinion about that?

RD said...

A ventriloquist does only one "trick"
and everyone knows how it works.
The audience can still appreciate the
entertainment value of the act.

S.W.Erdnase said...

Difference between a ventriloquist is that audience come to appreciate his skill and not because they are to be deceived. Truth of the matter is that most magic effects are incredibly easy and people will not respect your skill per se. One self worker is the backbone of my act. When that one gets exposed, im sure people wont respect it as much then when I perform the cups and balls. First of all, let me say that i fully dislike exposure. Second of all, let me state that i do think the Penn and Teller thing is not exposure at all, not in my book. I really like the show. Very well done, thousand times better than the Uri Geller things. Great performances, Hosts are very polite, good performers, what more could one ask? The exposure is mostly done in a cryptic manner, and even if it werent, it is only said, not shown (people tent to forget that the fastest). Great show and i agree on Roland with this one.

Buckley said...

Even if the audience knows how you do it, they still watch in awe something they don't have the skills to do. It can be - in some tricks - still entertaining, even if not as "magic" in the strict sense, but as a stunt, or as an athlete's exhibition. Think of Penn and Teller doing the cups and balls with transparent glasses. It is funny even if watched over and over, simply because the exposition only makes more clear how difficult it is to perform. It may sound like I am saying that a magician can be like a juggler or a guy in the trapeze, and well... that is what I am saying.